Colosseum History

Seating in the Colosseum

Seating in the Colosseum

Since the games were public spectacles, entrance was free. However, every citizen received a ticket on which the seat assigned to him and how to get to it were precisely indicated: the number of the entrance archway, the maenianum, the «wedge» of the latter, and the row. The stands were divided into sections according to precise social categories.

We know that Augustus carefully regulated the separation of the different classes at all public spectacles. The first section, the podium, was reserved for the senators, while the equites sat right above them in the frontrows of the first maenianum. Separation was ensured by inscriptions carved on the stands indicating the magistracies, priestly classes, social categories or ethnic groups which were to sit in a given place. One of the epigraphs that have been preserved designates the place reserved for foreign ambassadors and diplomats (called hospites), while another one refers to the ethnic origin Gaditanorum (from Cadiz). Other fragments document special seats for the young praetextati (youth who had no yet reached the age of manhood and thus of civic duties, and who wore the toga praetexta) or school teachers (paedagogipuerorum).

Seating in the Colosseum

Flavian Amphitheater, interior. East section of the senatorial podium as reconstructed in the 1930s

colosseum seating

Flavian Amphitheater, interior. The service gallery and the inscription regarding the restoration of the stands in the middle of the fifth century A. D. Names of senators are carved on the other side

An important epigraphic text of A.D. 80 designates the seats reserved for the priestly Arval Brothers, which were separated and distinguished in the different sections (from the podium to the wooden stands) according to the rank held in the cult. The senators, however, had the privilege of personal seats, on which their full names were written, as attested by the inscribed blocks of marble now lying around the arena, but which were originally mounted along the edge of the podium as a parapet. On the front is the dedication for the restoration work on the stands carried out by the prefect of Rome.

colosseum seating plan

Colosseum, reconstructed section showing how the cavea was divided. ( Click for details)

Flavius Paulus in the middle of the fifth century, while on the back are epigraphs with the names of the different senators carved in on the seats belonging to them in the first row.
In other cases the names were carved on the upper edge of the marble seats and as the years went by were gradually rubbed off and replaced. Those that are still legible belong to the senatorial class of the late fifth century, the last one to attend the spectacles.

colosseum seating

Brick structure that supported the seating terraces over tunnels and walkways that once held tigers and gladiators under the floor of the Colosseum

«Having been outraged by the insult to a senator who, at a crowded show in Puteoli, had not been offered a seat by anyone, [Augustus] ordered regulations to prevent the disorderly and haphazard distribution of seats. He had a senatorial decree issued providing that at every public performance the front row of seats be reserved for senators. He separated soldiers from civilians. He assigned special seats to married commoners and a special section to boys not yet come of age, as well as one to their tutors nearby. He banned badly dressed spectators from the best seats, and confined women to the highest rows, whereas they had previously sat together with men.
He assigned a separate section, facing the praetor’s box, to the Vestal Virgins. He did not allow any women at all to watch athletic contests. Indeed, when the crowd called for a boxing match during the Pontifical Games he postponed it until the following morning, and he issued an edict announcing that he did not want women to go to the theater before ten o‘clock»
(Suetonius, August, 44, 3-4).